MP backs business group’s campaign to boost town centre

Oct 07, 2019

(from left): Samuel Caldbeck and Stephen Mooring of Central Bedfordshire Council, Andrew Selous MP, Cllr Farzana Kharawala, Michael Weedon and Gennaro Borrelli at the meeting.

A BEDFORDSHIRE MP has praised the efforts of the Federation of Small Businesses to boost business in Leighton Buzzard.

Andrew Selous was speaking after a meeting to discuss the future of Leighton Buzzard town centre. Delegates from more than 40 town businesses discussed how they, Leighton-Linslade Town and Central Bedfordshire Councils might work together to ensure that the town benefits from the current and planned housing growth.  

“It shows that there is a real interest in keeping our town vibrant,” said Mr Selous, MP for South West Bedfordshire. “I am very pleased that FSB is spearheading a movement to keep the local councils alive to the concerns of local businesses and is helping to ensure that everything is done to make our town successful.”

The meeting, held at Bossard Hall, was hosted by Leighton Buzzard-based businessman Gennaro Borrelli, who chairs of FSB’s Special Interest Group. Mr Selous spoke at the meeting, as did the FSB’s national policy lead on retail affairs Michael Weedon and Sam Caldbeck,  place programme manager for Central Bedfordshire Council. 

Deputy Mayor of Leighton Linslade, Councillor Farzana Kharawala chaired a panel question and answer session, which raised many issues including the lack of access and to the town centre by public transport, parking as well as the problem of anti-social behaviour which could deter town centre shoppers.  

Mr Borrelli said: “Leighton Buzzard is the largest town by population in Central Bedfordshire but because it is right on the edge of the unitary authority’s geography, we worry that it gets forgotten in terms of strategic planning and funding.

“It has a thriving town centre and a great many independent retailers and other traders but there is the constant threat from large retail developments which will drive retail and other consumer traffic away from the centre.”

Mr Weedon suggested that a Business Improvement District, in which local businesses pay a levy to fund enhancements locally to boost trade, was one option. Similar BIDs already operate in Bedford, Luton and Central Milton Keynes. 

“We know that town centres are going to have to change. They are going to have to become  destinations, rather than just places where people buy the things they need every day,” Mr Weedon told the meeting. “There is however a vital role that town centres play  in terms of providing local jobs and being a focus for the community. 

“In terms of the national picture, Leighton Buzzard is not doing too badly, it still has its fair share of great, independent businesses and it is very lucky that has so far kept its network of bank branches, the lack of which is a big problem for other town centres up and down the country. 

“Keeping  footfall high is a problem for our town centres but one of the keys to this is everybody working together. Business Improvement Districts  can be one way to provide the impetus to provide extra resources to ensure continued use.” 

Other projects that FSB’s local group intend to take forward are a campaign to co-ordinate special offers  for Small Business Saturday on December 7, to promote  these to local residents and to offer business support and training for local retailers.

Mr Selous said: “It was excellent that so many people from the town attended this event. The last thing any of us need is Leighton Linslade to become merely a dormitory for other larger centres. I certainly learned a lot from this meeting which I shall use in my future engagement with local and central government in these matters.” 

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